A Georgia Tech PH.D candidate has created a mobile app intended to help adults learn how to make healthy food choices. The app, called “OrderUP!” was presented at Ubicomp 2010 in Copenhagen, Denmark in the paper "Let's Play! Mobile Health Games for Adults”.
As with all good apps, the premise is simple – the user is working at a lunch counter and is approached by virtual customers who ask them to pick the healthiest food from a list of three on the menu. A player starts with 1,000 “health points” that drop each time they make a choice that is not the healthiest, and if they take too long in deciding the customer will become impatient and leave. The idea behind the game is to get people to think about their own health and consider their choices before purchasing and eating food, and so far, it seems to be working. Grimes Parker: The Face Of Healthy App'ing.
According to the app’s creator, Andrea Grimes Parker, those who played the game began discussing their food and nutrition choices after a matter of merely three weeks, and began exhibiting other behavioral changes as predicted by the Transtheoretical Model (TTM), a behavioral theory used to measure changes participants displayed including consciousness raising, self-reevaluation, engaging in helping relationships, and counter-conditioning.
While Parker’s team did a great deal of research on nutritional data, they left the app almost completely free of details, giving people only the basics they needed to play the game. As it turned out, many of those who enjoyed the app were also interested in obtaining more detailed information on their food choices, an unexpected reaction. Parker focused her game from the beginning on the local African American population, and tailored many of the designs and background graphics to that community, but the game is easily adaptable to any age or ethnic group. The app isn’t particularly detailed or deep – things that would have only limited its effectiveness. By keeping it streamlined and simple, OrderUP has managed to garner broad appeal as a quick and fun mobile game, and encourage interest in healthier food choices from those who play. With the lack of healthy food choices available for many Americans and a startling lack of overall physical activity both contributing to an obesity epidemic, an app that generates interest in eating right can only be of benefit for a country that is feeling its weight. It seems somehow appropriate that it is a “mobile” app.